Do it yourself handbag cleaning: Exercise caution - a case study

The miracle cures

The the array of leather and suede cleaning products available at brick and mortar stores and on line is extensive.

Apparently, there's a "specialized cleaning product" for every brand, for every type of leather and suede, for every color of leather and suede, for every type of stain, spill and soil, and for every possible combination thereof.

Furthermore, the internet is awash in DIY cleaning suggestions for every handbag, purse, wallet and backpack cleaning question ever asked.

These miracle cures typically involve magic erasers, saddle soaps, mink oils, warm water, ammonia, lemon juice, vinegar, rubbing alcohol, pumice-based hand cleaners, moisturizing creams, hair shampoos and conditioners, leather furniture cleaners, automotive leather cleaners and sandpaper.

Our suggestion: When it comes to high-end handbags, purses, wallets and backpacks, proceed with caution.

And, yes, we do have a bias.

That's because we see the results of these DIY "cleaning" projects every week.

In a prior blog post, we showed you the results of a restoration of a Tory Burch handbag that was the subject of a DIY project gone (way) wrong.

In this blog post, we'll use a Prada leather handbag to illustrate how good intentions can produce progressively worse results as even more "cleaning" products and "homegrown" processes are used to counteract the disaster caused by the previous products and processes used.

Do It Yourself handbag cleaning turned disaster

The sad story began when our client got an ink stain the size of a nickel on her Prada leather handbag.

She knew she had to do something. Anything! Right then!

So she stopped by a local shoe repair shop for advice. They sold her a bottle of "leather cleaner" that they claimed "works real good".

She then applied the leather cleaner with a towel, using a circular motion recommended by the shoe repair shop.

As she was applying the leather cleaner, she noticed that the ink stain was spreading. Not lifting as she expected.

She also noticed that the leather was turning a darker color.

So she brought our her hair drier in the hope that the heat from the hair drier would dry the liquid leather cleaner and return the handbag to the original color.

As you might suspect, the hair dryer didn't work. Not only didn't it work, but it hardened the skin in the area of the ink stain.

Fearing that she might be damaging the handbag instead of restoring it, she googled "removing stains left by leather cleaners" and found a forum comment from a Helpful Heloise who suggested that the answer was corn starch (our client subsequently learned that all her solutions to all problems was corn starch).

So she stopped by a supermarket to pick up corn starch. Then, as she sprinkled corn starch on the enlarged stain, she accidentally bumped the bottle of leather cleaner, further splattering the handbag with leather cleaner.

Miraculously, she stopped searching for any more products to clean up the mess caused by the previously used products.

The transformation

Given the extent of the damage caused by this DIY cleaning project, we recognized that cleaning alone would do little to restore the handbag to wearable condition.

In this case, the handbag would have to be completely refinished (you can call it "re-dyed" or "repainted") after cleaning.

The only question was this:

  • What color would the client choose.
  • Would the client retain the black silicone trim color or elect to refinish it the same color as the rest of the handbag.

When it comes to changing the color of the handbag, we always recommend that a client choose a color that's

  • darker and
  • matches the color of the zipper or contrasts only very slightly with the zipper.

In this case, the client chose a dark brown that perfectly matched the zipper color.

She also chose to retain the black color of the piping (which added a little complication -- hence labor time -- to the refinishing as we'd need to mask off all the black trim to avoid contact with the dark brown color).

In summary, the solution involved:

  • Hand cleaning the exterior of the  handbag.
  • Hand cleaning the interior of the handbag and then disinfecting the interior with a virucide.
  • Refinishing the handbag to a completely different color of the client's choosing.
  • Reconditioning the leather to restore the suppleness, especially in the area where the hair drier had dried out the leather.

The results of the transformation can be seen in the following BEFORE and AFTER photographs:

RAVE FabriCARE in Scottsdale, Arizona cleans and restores handbags and other accessories ruing by Do It Yourself cleaning and/or restoration projects: Prada leather handbag stained with ink

For even more BEFORE and AFTER photographs on the transformation of this handbag, please view our slide show below:

To view this slide show on a full screen, hit the X button with the arrow tips.

The takeaway

The takeaway from this post is simple:

Handbags, purses, wallets and backpacks that have been subject to unsuccessful DIY cleaning projects can be cleaned and restored but only if cleaned by hand. And then only by a cleaner who

  • specializes in cleaning and restoring handbags, purses, wallets and backpacks,
  • employs full time handbag cleaning specialists and
  • completes all work on premises (does not ship the work to an unknown, undisclosed, out of state subcontractor).

In Arizona, there is only one cleaner who meets these 3 criteria: RAVE FabriCARE in Scottsdale.

By the way, if you don't live in the metro Phoenix area, all is not lost. We ship throughout the USA, Canada and other selected countries.

Send us your photos for a free, no-obligation evaluation and price guesstimate.